Introducing World Religions:
The eBook

Introducing World Religions Online:
Comprehensive Glossary of Terms

Term Definition


The last day of creation according to the Torah, celebrated weekly by Jews from before sundown Friday to after sundown Saturday; called Shabbat in Hebrew.


Principle in Japanese art indicating an objective simplicity, rustic character, or poverty.


A Christian ritual that mediates divine grace (normally from the Holy Spirit), and typically it recall a hierophany.


Hindu devotee of Śiva.


Hindu devotee of Śakti, the goddess.


Energy; name for the feminine cosmic spiritual power; she takes on many forms, such as Sītā, Rādhā, Kālī, and Durgā; she is associated closely with the kuṇḍalinī energy experienced by yogīs.


General term for the Islamic fundamentalist movement that includes Muslims who strive to return to the disciplined ways of their predecessors in the early days of Islam.


Name for the eighth limb of yoga discussed in Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras; it represents the highest state of contemplation in which even "desire" for union with the divine drops away.


Descendants of the ancient Hebrew people of the northern kingdom of Israel who maintain their own Torah (predating Ezra's reform) and religious seat at Mount Gerezim (near Nablus).


Quiescence, calmness; a branch of Buddhist meditation leading to the dhyānas, but not to enlightenment.


Buddhist four-fold spiritual community; monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen; typically refers to monks and nuns.


One of the six Hindu sacred sciences; it teaches that the world is divided into Prakṛti (matter) and Puruṣa (spirit); the sacred science of Yoga uses this teaching as its cosmological base.


Jain ritual of holy death in which consumption of food gradually is curtailed, until nothing is eaten or drunk.


Renunciate; Hindu in the fourth and final āśrama according to the ancient Vedic system of life stages; also called śramaṇa and śramaṇi (striver), or sādhu and sādhvī (accomplished ones).


Wandering around; the cycle of birth and death characterized by suffering; until one attains nirvāṇa (Buddhism), mokṣa (Hinduism), or kevala (Jainism) one is reborn into this cycle.


One of sixteen rites of the Hindu life cycle.


Men who serve; members of the military class in medieval Japan.


(ca. 800 CE) Hindu saint who played a key role in defining Advaita Vedānta thought, which defines reality as Tat Tvam Asi (That Art Thou), based on insights gleaned from the Upaniṣads.


Zoroastrian savior who will come to usher in the end of time.

Sarah and Ḥājar

Mothers of the biblical patriarch Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.


The last of three Persian dynasties (226-651 CE) to promote Zoroastrian tradition. They aimed to restore the legacy of Cyrus II (the Great).

Sat Nām

True Name; Sikh name for God.


Ancient custom (now outlawed) in India of a woman burning herself on her husband's funeral pyre.


Zen Buddhist term for enlightenment.


A movement among medieval theologians of the Abrahamic traditions who aimed to resolve apparent contradictions between faith and reason.


Ritual meal in Judaic tradition taken on the first night or two of Pesach (Passover), following steps prescribed in the Haggadah.


Diaspora Jews who lived in Spain, Portugal, or Islamic Mediterranean lands, and their descendants. Many migrated to North Africa, or the Middle East. They speak Ladino, a language akin to medieval Spanish.


Ten emanations of divine light contemplated by Jewish mystics in the cabbala tradition. They comprise the Tree of Life.


Service for the sake of others; key value in Sikhism.


Muslim creed that says, "There is no God but God; Muḥammad is his Prophet."


The earliest dynasty of China (ca. 1600-1045 BCE) for which there is archeological data; they were based in north central China, knew use of writing, harvested wheat and millet, and were ruled by a warrior clan.


Body of sacred law in Islam.


Branch of Islam concentrated in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, parts of Afghanistan, and Pakistan that includes about one-fifth of Muslims worldwide.


Just-sitting; represents the highest form of meditation for Zen Buddhists of Dōgen's Sōtō school.


Enclosing rope; ceremonial rope braided with rice straw displayed in Shintō sacred places


Japan's indigenous religion; Shintō is the Chinese pronunciation of the Japanese term kami no michi, Kami Way; it is comprised of the Chinese characters for shen (spirit) and dao (way).


Arabic term used in Islam, for polytheism or associating someone or something with God's power.


The Holocaust during which an estimated six million Ashkenazi Jews were systematically harassed or put to death under policies of genocide instituted by the German Nazi Third Reich between 1933 and 1945.

Shoghi Effendi

(1897-1957) Successor to, and grandson of, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the Bahá’í tradition; his writings are considered as authoritative, but he is considered as an ordinary human being.

Shōtoku Taishi

(574-622) Crown prince of Japan who wrote a seventeen point "constitution;" played a key role bringing Buddhist tradition and the Tang-era fine arts to Japan.

Shroff, Behramshah

(b. 1858) A Parsi who propounded an esoteric form of Zoroastrian religion that emphasized the role of laypeople.


The disembodied soul of a Jain who has attained liberation; such a beings abides at the apex of the universe.


A supernormal power such as clairvoyance and telepathy that comes as a side-product of meditation; discussed in Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu texts.

Simon Peter

Christian apostle of Jesus who was martyred ca. 64 CE; he was the first "pope," and the lineage of Christian bishops for both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches derive from him.


Member of the Hindu Trimūrti called the cosmic destroyer; he is associated with the liṅgam, and sometimes appears as Ardhanārīśvara who is half-male, and half-female; he is the patron of yogīs, and the father of Gaṇeśa.

six perfections

Buddhist spiritual path of a bodhisattva, involving the practice of: generosity, morality, patience, joyous effort, calm abiding, and wisdom.


Five heaps of conditioning making up the person, according to Buddhist theory: forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and minds.


Israelite king who built the Jerusalem Temple (ca. 1000 BCE) and was famous for his political alliances throughout West Asia.

Somé, Malidoma

A contemporary Dagara whose life mission is to share aspects of his culture with westerners.


Chinese dynasty (960-1279) during which Neo-Confucian tradition developed; during this period Chan and Pure Land Buddhist sects grew up after the severe persecution in 845 CE.

Soyinka, Wole

Nigerian poet who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Spenta Mainyu

The Holy Spirit in Zoroastrian religion who battles the "twin" spirit Angra Mainyu in this physical world.

Spinoza, Baruch

Enlightenment thinker (1632-1677), excommunicated from his Jewish community in Amsterdam, whose writing set the stage for historical-critical biblical criticism in our own day.


A striver; renunciate mendicant of India who seeks liberation from saṃsāra.


Sanskrit term meaning heard; used with reference to the body of most sacred texts of the Vedic (early Hindu) tradition.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady

(1815-1902) Social activist who fought for the right for women to vote in the US, interpreted events in the Christian scriptures from a feminist perspective, and edited the Woman's Bible.

subtle erasure

Term referring to the cultural phenomenon of a culture or people becoming "invisible" due to factors such as cultural imperialism, political, religious, or ecomonic domination, and racism.


Muslim mystic.

Suhrawardī, al-

(ca. 1154-1191) Persian Islamic philosopher impacted by Zoroastrian tradition, who developed a theory of mystic colors, and started the "illuminationist" school that discussed the presence of an imaginal realm ('alam al-khāyal).

sui generis

Belonging to its own kind.

Sulak Sivaraksa and Tenzin Gyatso

A pair of modern Buddhist social activists; the first (b. 1933) spoke of Buddhism with a "small b;" the second (b. 1935) won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Sun Dance

Native American ceremonial including a dance in which participants face the hot sun for several days, and offer their flesh to the divine for the sake of their community.


The body of Muslim tradition about Prophet Muḥammad including legal perspectives, orders, matters of worship, sayings, habits, and so on; the Arabic term means tradition or path.


Branch of Islam whose members (amounting to around four-fifths of Muslims) refer to themselves as people of the tradition and community.


Emptiness; lack of inherent existence; deepest nature of reality as dependently arising according to Buddhist philosophy.

supreme buddha

Technical term used only with reference to buddhas who come into the world to show the path to enlightenment when it has become defunct; examples are Dīpaṃkara, Gautama, and Maitreya (the future buddha).


Chapter of the Qur'ān (amounting to 114 all together).


The "white-clad" community of Jains, who wear clothes.


An object or act that effectively represents something else because it has a common structure. It makes present an invisible or abstract entity in need of a concrete representation.


Refers to the process of combining cultural elements from different traditions.

synoptic gospels

Term for the Christian New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus attributed to men named Matthew, Mark, and Luke because they contain much common material.

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